Despite going to the dog park nearly every single day this summer, and seeing just about every type of dog that exists in my county, there’s one kind of dog I’ve never seen there: a service dog. For the most part, you won’t see a service dog playing at a dog park. Ever wonder why that is? To put it in very simplistic terms, these dogs aren’t pets. Seeing a service dog playing at a dog park would be the same thing as seeing a dairy cow playing at a dog park. Sure, the farmer may grow fond of the dairy cow, just like a service dog owner may grow very fond of their dog – but that doesn’t make them pets.
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What makes a service dog different from a pet? Does this life make a dog less fulfilled or less happy than a pet dog? What’s the difference between a service dog and a therapy dog? There are a lot of questions for those who have never been around a service dog before. To start, let’s talk about the three things that make a service animal different from a pet.
Specific Combination of Traits[easyazon_image align=”right” cart=”n” cloak=”y” height=”180″ identifier=”B0054SZDLE” locale=”US” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41UZM%2Bf3TyL.jpg” tag=”natur0da-20″ width=”250″]
A lot of people are familiar with stories of strays or kennel dogs being rescued and turned into service dogs. This is a heartwarming tale, but it’s not at all the usual path for a service dog. In fact, most of the rescue dogs that get this particular “happy ending” end up being adopted out because they just don’t meet the standards for a service animal. The fact is that most service dogs are carefully bred for the exact right combination of traits. This is why you so often see the same breeds as service dogs (like Golden Retrievers or Labradors) because they have been bred for the correct combination of traits. What are those traits exactly?
- Life expectancy: It’s easiest for a person that needs a service dog if that dog will have a relatively long life – over 10 years at the least. Going through a new dog every five to eight years won’t be good for someone that needs a dog to do specific tasks.
- Activity level: Service dogs need to have enough energy to perform tasks all day and all night as needed. However, they also need to be able to self-regulate their energy. A dog that gets overexcited and can’t calm down won’t be great for a service dog.
- Strength: Depending on what the dog is needed for, they may need to have a strong They may need to be able to steady someone who needs assistance walking or standing. They may need to be able to provide pressure by laying on someone. They may need to be able to physically drag their owner out of harm’s way (for example, if their owner faints or falls on a busy sidewalk corner, the dog may need to pull them away from traffic). It’s for this reason that you don’t typically see small breeds being trained as traditional service animals.
- Intelligence: Service dogs have to have a unique type of intelligence that isn’t common in most dogs. They need to be trainable, of course, because they must perform very specific and sometimes complex tasks. But they also need to be able to make decisions utilizing smart refusal of commands. For example, a blind dog owner may ask their [easyazon_link identifier=”B0054SZDLE” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”natur0da-20″ cart=”n” cloak=”y” localize=”y” popups=”n”]guide dog[/easyazon_link] to lead them to a location, but the dog may “refuse” the command to walk if he sees that a car is running a red light. The dog has to be smart enough to understand when and how to refuse a command to keep their owner That is asking a lot from a dog.
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Years of Evaluations and Training[easyazon_image align=”right” cart=”n” cloak=”y” height=”250″ identifier=”B07FCZCDPH” locale=”US” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41PB%2B8hZ4oL.jpg” tag=”natur0da-20″ width=”250″]
The second thing that sets service dogs apart is the many years of intensive training and evaluations they go through. For the most part, unless they are taking part in a training program, people who need a service dog don’t adopt a puppy. Dogs that are being [easyazon_link identifier=”B07FCZCDPH” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”natur0da-20″ cart=”n” cloak=”y” localize=”y” popups=”n”]trained[/easyazon_link] to become service dogs spend their puppy years with professional trainers, often the same people who bred the litter. During these years, the puppies will be put through tons of tests, medical evaluations, and specific training based on what they are being taught to do. By the time they go to an owner in need of a service dog, they have gone through multiple elimination rounds, passed many tests, and are certified to be in the best health possible. This is why service dogs are so expensive if you purchase one outright. (A trained service dog can cost around $20,000 after being well trained for a person’s specific needs. But keep in mind that this animal is basically taking the role of a human nurse or full-time caregiver and goes through years of evaluations to do the job.)
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Trained to Perform a Function
Many people think of service dogs as one group of dogs that can just do all kinds of things. But the truth is that service dogs are actually trained to perform very specific tasks depending on what their owners need. A guide dog for a blind or vision impaired owner will be trained to watch out for the immediate safety of their owner, find the safest route to a location, find assistance if needed, fetch important items, and so on. However, this dog likely won’t be trained to offer assistance standing up out of bed, unless the owner also needs this task due to other disabilities.
As you can see, service dogs can be trained to do exactly what the owner needs. It’s not uncommon for a person who needs a service dog to “put in an order” for a dog that is training as a general service dog for their general needs. The trainer will then spend some time training the dog to the specific needs of the person before they adopt them.
This is how you end up with dogs that can sniff out changes in blood sugar, or that know to nudge a deaf or hearing impaired owner when someone is attempting to get their attention, and so on. A service dog isn’t just trained to be a very attentive dog; they are trained for the specific tasks that their owner needs them to perform.
Other Questions About Service Dogs[easyazon_image align=”right” cart=”n” cloak=”y” height=”110″ identifier=”B01EMBB5V0″ locale=”US” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41l30VgonPL.jpg” tag=”natur0da-20″ width=”250″]
So now that you know what three things a dog really needs to be a service dog, let’s answer some other questions about service dogs. To start, let’s define the difference between a service dog, a therapy dog, and other kinds of animals that offer assistance to humans.
- Service dog: To be defined as a service animal, a dog has to meet certain requirements set by the government according to the ADA (in America…other countries have their own laws governing this). The basic definition is a dog that is trained to perform tasks on behalf of a disabled person. The disability must be either a mental or physical condition that substantially limits an important life function – like the ability to care for yourself, walk, see, hear, speak, work, and so on. These are not considered pets in the eyes of the law – they are considered “equipment”, in the same way a person’s wheelchair might be. This is important because it means that a landlord can’t refuse to rent to someone with a service dog – since their “no pets” policy doesn’t apply to a “piece of equipment”.Interestingly enough, a person doesn’t have to certify their dog as a service animal, according to the law. Probably the biggest reason is that it would be hard to come up with a certification standard since every service dog is trained to meet their owner’s individual needs. And the ADA also prevents public property owners from asking someone for the “paperwork” that proves their dog is a service dog. If a landlord or public property owner suspects that someone is taking advantage of this law, they would have to go to court, where the dog owner would then have to prove that their dog is a service animal.
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- Therapy dog or emotional support dog: A therapy dog, also called an emotional support dog by some, is a dog that provides unique benefits to someone with a medical disability, but that doesn’t assist with a life-supporting task or function. For example, there could be someone with PTSD that needs a service dog to assist them with preventing or managing seizures. This person would need a dog specifically trained to deal with this situation in order to help them work or live safely. However, there could also be someone with PTSD who is able to perform the basic tasks of living, but needs a companion to help them stay in a routine, avoid staying locked indoors all day, and offers non-judgmental companionship. In this case, a therapy dog would be the right choice. This dog doesn’t have to be trained to do anything in specific – they just need to be a well-mannered, empathetic dog that also enjoys routine.These dogs are unique in that they do actually require documentation, unlike service dogs. This is likely because many therapy dogs are brought into hospitals and care facilities to help cheer up people undergoing treatments. You may find hospitals that have programs matching up therapy dogs with children in cancer wards, for example. It’s a bit harder to say whether this dog is a pet or not. On the one hand, they have a job, and they require medical documentation to be considered a therapy dog. They are also generally allowed to get around a “no pets” rule for renters. But the fact that they aren’t specifically trained to assist with vital life tasks means they aren’t considered “equipment” the way a service dog is – so they often don’t get to enjoy loopholes when it comes to public places like restaurants, for example.
- Companion dog: Finally, you have the companion dog. This is the pet dog. This is your buddy you got from the shelter, the designer pooch you paid a pretty penny for, your best pal since childhood, the stray you adopted off the side of the road, and so on. This guy isn’t protected under the law, so a landowner can tell you that he can’t live with you if you are a renter. He’s not trained or medically evaluated in any way unless you do it yourself.
Do service dogs like being service dogs? Well, I guess that depends on who you ask. My bet is yes. These dogs are trained from their very first moments on the planet to feel a strong sense of fulfillment out of doing their jobs. And they do get to “relax” with their owner in the privacy of their home. Plus, they [easyazon_link identifier=”B01EMBB5V0″ locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”natur0da-20″ cart=”n” cloak=”y” localize=”y” popups=”n”]retire[/easyazon_link] once they reach a certain age. Sometimes they stay with the family of the person in need, sometimes they go to people who specifically take in retired service animals, and sometimes they may even go back to their trainer to help bring up a new round of service animals. For being a dog that is so expensive and so well trained, they are definitely well cared for, so I would guess that they feel just as happy with their lives as your backyard dog does.
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The Final Word
Service dogs are pretty amazing creatures, and they are a vital part of the system that is in place to help those with disabilities. For many people, a service dog can help them feel more independent than having a human caretaker would, which helps boost confidence and give them a sense of autonomy. For others, who may struggle with human help due to their condition, a dog is really the best choice overall. If you see a service dog, you’ll know now why they seem so serious – they are hard at work!